I’m sitting on the stone ledge in front of my fireplace, my first-born son sleeping peacefully in his bouncer on the floor next to me, my wife and daughter asleep in the bedrooms down the hall, the creaks and cracks of our home in wintertime like a metronome marking the rhythm of this new life.
In the words of my favorite singer-songwriter Damien Rice, “I’ve got so much beauty around me, I can’t lose.”
I think back to the original question: As the father of a young girl, don’t I want my Church to afford women all the same opportunities that she affords men?
Now as the father of a young boy and a young girl, I can reply with certainty: Yes…but not in the way the questioner means.
I want my Church to provide both my son and my daughter with the opportunity to learn about the God of Abraham and Isaac, to meet the Christ who defeated death, to feel the movements of the Holy Spirit and be surrounded by a community of believers that emboldens them both to cooperate with those movements in a world increasingly hostile to these divine calls.
I want my Church to provide my son with opportunities to give of himself and my daughter with opportunities to be receptive and fruitful in the way she is meant to be, a self-gift in its own right, but greater, for it is a gift of both her and the fruit that only she can bear.
I want my Church to stand firm against the wailings and wrenchings of a world determined to determine, desperate to define, scratching and clawing at the muck and filthy clay of this earth to find truth that can only be seen within their own hearts.
I look at my Church and in one glance I can see a vast sea of faces in which I am floating, all of us sad and broken and addicted and failing, all of us proclaiming a truth we are incapable of living up to; and in that same glance I also see a Spirit within us all and transcending us all, a Life and Light that the darkness cannot comprehend or overcome, something so not-human but not inhuman, something super-human, something lifting, Someone who is who-we-were-made-to-be-and-could-still-become, and I am filled with an unspeakable hope, a feeling not unlike that surge of tears that burns my eyes now as I look on my child, my son, this new life that just moments ago was not visible to my eyes but for the glow of my wife.
This is the Church that was born on Calvary.
A friend of mine once wrote a song, one of my favorites, that was about all the things that happened on this one particular bed. It was essentially the story of a family: sex, births, deaths, all in this one place.
As Pope Benedict taught us in Deus Caritas Est, this is how we are to think of the Cross.
On the Cross we see an act so perfect that it encompasses all aspects of earthly family life, all aspects of masculinity and femininity, and yet transcends them all. We see the whole spectrum of human life present in one perfect moment. It is the perfect family moment on the perfect wooden bedframe.
First, a birth: When the side of Christ was pierced, blood and water flowed out. The Church of baptism and Eucharist was born. I just witnessed a live birth and anyone who has ever seen one knows that this is precisely what happens, a rush of blood and water spilling out in a mess of screaming new life. The images and symbols of birth are there in that moment on the Cross, and they are the images of the life of the Church: water for baptism, blood for the Eucharist. The Church is born.
Second, a death and marriage: When the Church is born from the side of Jesus, it is the marriage of the New and Perfect Husband to His New and Perfect Wife, just as the First Woman was given after being born from the side of the First Man. As Adam beheld his own flesh and blood before him when he awoke from a deep sleep, created from the opening of his side during that slumber, so Christ beheld his own flesh and blood, His Body, the Church, created from the opening in his side during the sleep of death, when he appeared to them in the Upper Room.
And here is what is truly extraordinary, what our minds cannot comprehend because we are so caught up in the roles of men and women that we forget that man and woman are expressions of God in a way that transcends any particular role: Mary is the embodiment of the Church for Jesus.
Here we see Jesus acting as Husband to His Bride the Church, as well as Son to the new Mother Church, both of whom are represented by His Mother Mary.
When we think of Son-Groom and Mother-Bride, we usually think of Oedipus, but this actually goes to prove the point. Sex is just an image of some sort of incredibly and indescribable giving and receiving that the Trinity is always engaged in and in which we can participate in Heaven, but it is not the thing itself. It is sign, not reality, art, not the landscape being painted, too profane to fully express how Woman is more than mother or wife or daughter and how Man is more than father or husband or son.
Sex can’t quite show us the reality that our God, the perfect man Jesus Christ, showed us with His Love in the presence of the perfect (though not divine) woman, Mary.
Beyond the images of Son and Husband, what we really see in Christ’s Passion is the Divine Self-Gift which masculinity is meant to emulate and make visible; and we also see the divinely-established Church’s function of receiving the Divine Self-Gift and making it fruitful, receiving the Body of Christ and then turning it into billions and billions of Bodies of Christ, the Eucharist-Children born of Mother Church from the seed of the Messianic Bride-Groom, a Bride-Mother represented by Mary in that perfect moment, giving back for all the world to see and experience the real flesh of the Groom-Father, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones in an even more tangible and real way than my son is my flesh and bone.
There is so much poetry there, such richness and depth and infinitude that a blog post is almost an insult to its enormity and I hesitate to even hit “publish”.
But this is the richness I want for my children. Not the current political debates about equality and fairness and progress. Not some pre-fabricated and shallow and finite identities that our society carefully crafts.
No. Life, and life to the full, nothing less. That is what I dream of at night when I wonder who my son is and will be and what all my daughter’s strength and warmth will translate to twenty years from now.
I don’t want them to be the same. I want them to fall in love with Jesus and His Body, the Church, and find His plan for them.
I am certain it is far greater than my limited dreams could wish.